Better performance. When you create a work environment that values diversity, people will feel more comfortable being themselves. If people don’t feel safe to be themselves, it can stifle creativity and happiness. They can fear rejection and not produce their best work. When employees are happy, they are more productive.
As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Guy Kamgaing.
Guy Kamgaing, a Los Angeles-based Cameroonian entrepreneur, is the Founder and CEO of StarNews Mobile (launched in 2017) and a 20-year veteran of the African mobile space. Guy started his career by supplying network equipment to mobile operators and ISPs in Africa and other developing markets, later entering the Value Added Services space by founding Mobile-XL and creating the XL Browser, the first mobile browser using SMS as a content bearer, before data and smartphones became mainstream. Guy holds an MBA from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and a mechanical engineering degree from France.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into the main part of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share a bit of your “backstory” with us?
I was born in Cameroon, raised in France, and I have been living in LA for over 20 years. I have worked in the telecom industry for 20 years, starting on the infrastructure side, supplying network equipment to mobile operators and ISPs in Africa as well as other developing markets.
After that, I moved into the Value Added Services space and founded my own company, Mobile-XL, which is a mobile SaaS company. I also created the XL Browser, the first mobile browser to use SMS as a content bearer before data and smartphones became mainstream. So for the past 10 years, I have worked in content and monetization.
Through this experience, I decided to work on creating another platform, one that would deliver African content at an affordable price to consumers. I started working on StarNews Mobile in 2015 and officially launched in 2017. After only nine months of pilot deployment in Côte d’Ivoire in partnership with operators MTN and Moov, we reached over one million subscribers. Today, we have more than 10 million subscribers.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or takeaway you took out of that story?
When we launched there was a dancer in Cote d’Ivoire who I met with and didn’t take very seriously. I didn’t think she would be as popular as she has turned out to be. She was performing at weddings and now her content on our platform is generating an income that is almost four times what she was making. I’m very impressed! But it goes to show you that StarNews is serving its purpose. We’re not so focused on A-list celebrities but the B-level performers who can reach a wider audience than they may have originally thought. Our platform is actually proving to be a bit of a barometer of social media and content consumption, at least in Africa. We’re finding that celebrities have more subscribers on StarNews than they have on other social media platforms.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you tell us a story about how that was relevant in your own life?
“Hire slowly, fire quick.” That’s my favorite quote because I’ve hired a lot of people and I didn’t fire them quick enough, which cost me a lot of money and equity. It also caused a lot of distraction and opportunity cost. For example, we recently found out one of our front-end developers was terrible and we kept him, but the real cost was not the amount of money we paid but the delay it created in research and development. Had we fired him and replaced him with somebody better, we would have resolved our issues with digital acquisition.
I have so many examples — at least ten — of people we should have fired or fired sooner than we did. In a startup environment, that just cannot happen.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
To me, my success comes from inception. I think about my pop. Whatever I’m doing today was instilled in me by my father. Not only was he my inspiration but he’s also the guy who set the bar. Everything else — everything that I’m doing or what I’m going through started from there.
The other person I think of is a guy named Norm Schiffman. He was my mentor for many years and is still a friend today. He made me understand life in a different way. I had never experienced failure until 2011 when I lost everything. I had never failed because I never really experienced adversity and I was an optimist. I always thought ‘things will always work out.’ Norm taught me that things will never just work out–it’s up to you to make them work out. Norm was the total opposite of me, more of a glass-half-empty kind of guy. But 99% of the time Norm was right.
My entire life, my pop was always there. Whenever there was a tough situation I knew he would help me out of it. With Norm–man–every time I would meet with him I knew he was going to tell me things I didn’t want to hear, but he was right. He taught me to approach a situation assuming it’s not going to work out and prepare for the worst because then I’ll work harder. With everything I do, I always prepare this way. Norm taught me to stop preparing for the best because the best never happens.
Success is rare. Failure is so much more likely. If you prepare yourself for success and you fail, you don’t know what to do. But if you prepare yourself for failure, you have a greater chance of reaching success.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
StarNews Mobile is unique in a few key ways, starting with the reason why I founded the company. I started StarNews because I saw how local content creators were struggling despite being very talented. I figured if we can create a platform through which creators could monetize their content, they could earn a decent living. I also saw an opportunity to provide a platform for consumers. At the time, local populations were not able to consume local content, as many other places in the world do. In the United States, you can watch shows and movies — all kinds of entertainment — created by Americans for Americans. In Africa, people were consuming only foreign content because local content simply did not exist. Through StarNews, we were able to establish a local content ecosystem that provides local content to local populations and puts money in the hands of creators.
Another differentiating factor that makes StarNews stand out is that we are two companies in one — we have a content piece and a billing piece. Our competitors are usually one of the other and most are content creators who let someone else manage billing. In the western world, platforms push out content and rely on ads to monetize. That’s what YouTube does. We set ourselves apart because we not only manage billing, but we own our content and aggregate it for platform distribution at the local level. Nobody else is really doing that, and if they’re trying, they don’t know how to monetize it. Additionally, our technology caters to a wide audience in a mobile-only market. We reach everyone whereas our competitors target the top 1%.
We are also very diverse; our team consists of experts in each field, located all over the world. We are not just an African company employing African people, although we do provide many opportunities for the continent. Rather, we position ourselves as a global company, looking for talent in every corner of the world.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
As a startup, we’re always working on new stuff. From the product side, we’re working on a feature that will revolutionize the way people consume music. We’re going to sell music by the track and take another angle towards music streaming, making it even more convenient for people to listen to local music. It will also put more money into the pockets of the musicians, so it will be better for creator monetization than competitors like Spotify and Tidal.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
StarNews has had a great opportunity to help African artists monetize their content. In the past, this was not possible. Many big-name companies weren’t paying musicians the royalties they deserved. StarNews offers a different business model where African artists are at the forefront — they’re seen and they’re paid.
Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Women are better workers than men. They are more loyal, more dedicated, and more serious about the job. Obviously, that’s a blanket statement, but it has been my experience. We have many women on the StarNews team and many in leadership positions.
- More diversity means acceptance and patience. At StarNews we have people with so many backgrounds, ethnically, religiously, etc. With so much diversity, people are able to learn more about each other, learn boundaries and what matters and doesn’t matter to each person. Our company spans five or six countries. In Cameroon alone, there are 250 ethnicities. That teaches our employees to learn from people who have different backgrounds, different values, different ways of doing business.
- Different opinions. This builds on the last point. When you have people with very diverse backgrounds, you have the opportunity to hear diverse perspectives. This leads to better problem solving, decision making, and increased productivity.
- Better performance. When you create a work environment that values diversity, people will feel more comfortable being themselves. If people don’t feel safe to be themselves, it can stifle creativity and happiness. They can fear rejection and not produce their best work. When employees are happy, they are more productive.
- Wider talent pool. Not only do we have people on the StarNews team from all over the world, but we also have employees who span different age groups. There are people with decades of experience in the industry and those who are just starting out. These different perspectives help us make informed business decisions and also help us develop new ideas to reach a wider, younger audience.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive?
Give your employees the space they need to be creative and feel free to express their ideas and opinions. A lot of companies have upper management that doesn’t listen to their employees, which is a shame because sometimes they have really great ideas that go unheard. If you take the time to listen to your employees, you create an environment where people feel comfortable working and creating great ideas. With that, you may find the next great idea that propels your business forward.
What advice would you give to other business leaders about how to manage a large team?
The advice I would give is to be able to delegate well and trust your team to get things done. You need to trust each person is able to support one another and be held accountable. More importantly, make sure each person’s voice is being heard equally from the support level all the way up to the executive team. At StarNews, we have about 30 employees worldwide and we are growing quickly. We have been able to do so because we value each person’s opinion and ideas, making our company culture unique and a work environment where employees can thrive. It makes more people want to join our team and help us grow.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
I’d like to have lunch with somebody who can relate to what I’m doing, not just because they’re a big name, you know? Somebody who can understand the problems I’m trying to solve with my business.
I know it’s cliche, but I’d really like to meet Bill Gates. He’s a visionary. I think he’s a guy with a kind heart. His heart is in the right place. He’s not a pure capitalist. He just happens to be smarter than all of us. He’s a businessman who is always going to win and when he wins, he wins big. But he also seems to be a caring person.
But I wouldn’t want to talk with him about business. I’m more interested in his view of the world and how he gives back. It’s something I feel strongly about and I know he does, too. So I’d like to understand his thought process on giving back and what criteria he uses. The difference between Bill Gates and others like him (like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, etc.) is that he still seems to be grounded. He’s not trying to go into space, he’s not trying to do something super futuristic. He’s more concerned with being a humanitarian. Those are the things I think are important.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these excellent insights. We wish you continued success in your great work.